Saturday, June 10, 2017

Elsie May Has Something to Say

Elsie Mae Has Something to Say 
    I received this book from NetGalley for an honest review.This book will be released in September. Elsie Mae Has Something to Say is about a little girl named Elsie Mae and her family who live in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. After hearing that the swamp may be in danger of being taken over by a shipping company, Elsie Mae decides that she needs to take action and writes the president a letter asking for help. After sending the letter, she goes to spend the summer on Honey Island with her grandparents, uncles and cousin, Henry James. While she is at the island, you learn about her family, the history of the swamp and friendship. Elsie's adventures also include the hunt for some hog bandits in the area.
      This is a nice piece of historical fiction, which has roots based on a true story. Although the book was a little predictable at points, I enjoyed the characters . Elsie Mae was spunky and I think many kids will enjoy getting to know her. Her spunk partnered with Henry's sincerity create a nice partnership. I liked the distinct "Southern" feel I got from this book. This would be a great book for the children's room at school or a library. I will ask my son to read it and tell me what he thought of it. Thanks NetGalley and Jabberwocky!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Life Without Limits

Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic 
     Like some of the other reviews I've read, I really wanted to like this book a little more than I did. I have heard about Nick Vujicic and was really wanted to learn about his story and life. He is a man who was born without any limbs. He does have a small left foot and a very tiny right foot. The book tells about his life but is more focused on motivating people and explaining the power of God in his life. I am a Christian, so this message is incredibly important to me as well, but I just expecting something different in this book. This book could be a powerful giver of hope to someone going through trials or people who would like to learn more about faith in God.  

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel  
     This is one of the NetGalley books I was most looking forward to reading. I think what surprised me most about this book is that I liked, and got attached to, characters that I normally wouldn't have. Samuel Hawley, a bit of a career criminal, has been living his life on the run with his daughter, Loo, for years. Eventually, they settle in Loo's mother's hometown, Olympus, Massachusetts. (Olympus is based on Gloucester, Ma, which is very close to where I live.) This book is a coming of age story that deals with loss, family, regrets of the past and the consequences of your actions. There is a roughness to many of the characters in this book, but also a tenderness between father and daughter that is really evident, despite their weird circumstances. The "twelve" in the title has to do with the explanation of 12 scars on Hawley's body, and where each bullet came from. This is a difficult book for me to explain for some reason. I would recommend it to many of my friends. I liked Tinti's writing style and may look to read more of her books. (This was the first book I've read that she has written.)

Something Beautiful Happened: A Story of Survival and Courage in the Face of Evil

Something Beautiful Happened: How My Search for a Family Hidden From the Nazis Taught My Family About Faith, Grace, and the Power of Kindness  
     I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book tells the story of the author's grandmother, who helped to save a Jewish family from the Nazi's on the island of Erikousa, Greece. After hearing this tale, various times in her life, the author decides to see if she can track down the relatives of the family that were able to escape. As this is happening in the present, other relatives of the author are shot by a white supremacist. The author goes back and forth between the stories of all of the people involved with the book.
Things I disliked about the book:  I found this book a little difficult to read because it jumped around so much from person to person. I love books that are written from different perspectives or where all the characters meet together somewhere later in the book, but I just struggled with this one. It just felt a little disjointed. However, when I was thinking about how I might organize it to be clearer, I didn't really have many good solutions.

 Things I liked about the book:  With that being said, I thought the story itself was important and I enjoyed many of the messages in the book. In so many cases, tragedies are remembered by who committed a crime rather than survivors or people who did the right thing. Also, as a person who is involved with genealogy, I could really appreciate some of the frustrating issues Yvette encountered when trying to research all of these families. (I can't even imagine how devastating searching through Holocaust records are if you have a personal connection with those people and how frustrating it is to know that the people existed but not being able to find anything due to the destruction of records.) The creators of MyHeritage also helped in these searches, which made me appreciate their software and their story a bit more.  I enjoyed "getting to know" the family of the author and her kinship with the relatives of the Jewish family that her family helped protect. It is a good reminder that even if evil always exists, people can bond together in love and do good in the world. 

       Our 8th graders study the Holocaust in their curriculum. I know the teacher would not like how the book jumps around, but I know many of the students might want to read this book as supplemental material. I will recommend it to them. I might also see if our librarian would like to get a copy for our school library.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

None Wounded, None Missing, All Dead- The Story of Elizabeth Bacon Custer

None Wounded, None Missing, All Dead: The Story of Elizabeth Bacon Custer 
      I received this book from GoodReads in exchange for an honest review.  (Thank you!) It's not often that I really struggle to get through a book, but this one was one of those times. This book is about the life of Elizabeth Bacon Custer and her marriage to General George Custer. It is a short read and the author's research is well-documented. (In fact, about 1/3 of the book is a the citations of the research, which is okay with me since I would totally read that closely if I wanted to do more investigating.)   There are 10 chapters in this book and I thought I would read a chapter a day. I found that I struggled with that. I was bothered that I couldn't figure out why this book was so hard for me. Here are a few of my thoughts:

1) I was not as interested in the subject as I thought I might be. I did learn a few things from this book and I was able to see the life of George Custer from some perspectives that I hadn't known about before, but there was nothing that made me curious as to what would come next for the couple.

2) (Hold on to your hats for this one) The book often quotes letters and journals, but I think that was distracting to me.  It would be talking specifically about Elizabeth and then mention what was going on with her husband and then include a letter about her husband or relating to another thing and I just felt that the transitions were strange? Maybe the writing style of the author just doesn't appeal to me.  There was also a lot about 2 other men, who were important in the lives of the Custers but I either wanted them mentioned in the book, or wanted more information about their background too.

3) George took such and such position- Elizabeth went with him. Then George had to move here. Elizabeth didn't. Repeat. A lot.

4) I think the real reason I didn't enjoy the book is that I didn't get emotionally attached to either Custer. I know it is not the authors intention in a non-fiction work to convince a reader to like or dislike a main character and it is their intention to portray them as they actually were, but sometimes I felt that the author was a bit biased. (Sometimes I felt he liked the Custers and other times, not so much.) 

      If anything related to this book is interesting to you- life on the plains, military history, Native American relations in the West, etc- perhaps this book might be a good read, but I found it dry.

 Reading Challenges Stats:
Goodreads Challenge:  15/75 (2 behind schedule)
Monthly Keyword Challenge: 5/12 (on track)
Mount TBR 11/24- (Ahead of schedule)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Inkblots review

       Have you ever heard of the Rorschach test? You know, the test that uses what people see in inkblots to help a psychologist identify aspects of your personality or how you function emotionally? Between seeing (Non-Rorschach) inkblots used in advertising, movies, Internet quizzes, etc. I'm sure you have heard of this test. However, do you know anything about the test or the man who created it? I didn't. Although I am not super into psychology, I thought I might learn something from this book so I applied to read from NetGalley it in exchange for a fair review. (Thanks Crown, Mr. Searls and NetGalley!)
      The first part of this book is a biography of Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychoanalyst responsible for creating this test.  I wondered why I hadn't really heard much about his life before reading this book. (The author states that his family were very private after Rorschach's death and that some of his things were lost in a fire after they were donated.) It was interesting for me to read about some of the beliefs of the times and places where he lived and worked. Rorschach died pretty young, at the age of 37. It would've been interesting to see what he would've accomplished had he lived longer.
       The second part of the book was basically a cultural history of the test- the strengths and weaknesses of the test, how it is scored, who it was used by and when, etc. To be honest, there were times that I found myself skimming some of these sections because psychology is not the most riveting subject to me, but there were definitely things I didn't know. I hadn't really considered that the whole aspect of "personality" is still a relatively new thought. While interpreting these tests, people used to think that some results were just dependent on how you were wired; now personality is a factor. Also, the interpretation of the test is skewed a bit depending on culture. Some of the scoring of the test has to do with colors- and some cultures associate colors to other objects or representations. I also didn't know how this test was used by the Nazis or in military screenings. It was an interesting read overall.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mount TBR- book 10 The Letterbox by Layton Green

   The Letterbox 
     I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.  Layton Green also signed it and wrote me a note. Thanks! This book is about a box that is found buried in the English moors.  It is procured by a man in New Orleans who then hires a team of people to go searching for answers regarding its origin and purpose. The team visits ancient sites across Europe in their quest to find "the pathway to God." I always looked forward to reading the book and seeing what was next but there were a few parts of the book that I found a little predictable. With that being said, the book kept me guessing at other points and still left me with some questions at the end of the story. There was also a theme of religion running through the book. The 4 person team looking for answers were all at different points in their faith (or lack thereof) and I enjoyed thinking about some of the questions that some of the characters were concerned with or motivated by.  I would recommend it to friends who I know enjoy this type of book. I would also be interested in reading more from Layton Green.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Ancestry DNA results

  Back in this post, I told you that I was taking an DNA test. I was so excited to get my results back in 6-8 weeks. Well, I finally got them. Get ready for some bumps in the road.

1) I am a very time oriented person. The kit directions state that you will get results in 6-8 weeks. (There is a disclaimer that it might take longer if there is a high volume of tests at that time.) After 6 weeks, I logged on to my account and checked the status. The test had been received by Ancestry on 1/24. Ok... that's not too much more time, no biggie. However, after 8 weeks, I still hadn't heard anything so I called their help line. I had noticed that they had marked it received, but there was no record that it was being processed. When I called, the woman at explained that after they receive it, they send it to the lab for processing, Apparently none of the testing process had even started. Grr. Luckily, I'm a patient person (most times) and I realize that they had a HUGE push for advertising these kits around Christmas. I get it, no reason to ruin this poor woman's day. On 4/3, they started processing my test and I got my results mid-week this week.

2) I thought I'd get something like 80% Ireland, 20% French Canadian.  From my Ethnicity Estimate, I'm 72% from Great Britain, 25% Irish, 2% Iberian Peninsula and 1% West Europe. Great Britain surprised me. Then I realized it said "Thousands of years ago."  Ok, less shocking I get.

3) I belonged to 2 possible genetic communities- Settlers of New England and French Settlers along the St. Lawrence. Both of those seem likely too.

4) DNA Circles- I was excited by this. I was hoping to find lots of close matches... ANY close matches. I do not belong to any DNA circles. This was disheartening. In my head I guess I was hoping to find some "distant" (but really- not distant, close enough that I could figure out a connection) relatives. There was 1 2nd cousin, my dad's cousin Elizabeth. I was hoping for 3rd cousins or closer. I have found people that might be a 3rd cousin but they don't have family trees submitted. I thought that maybe I could find people who were connected by my 3 mystery relatives that I've been struggling with. Nope.

5) What does THAT mean?! A few months ago, I thought I had solved some big mystery. Now that I have my test, I looked forward to confirming people I should've been related to. There was no DNA match. I guess this can happen with distant relatives, but I'm also wondering if I have something wrong with my research.People who have not taken the test will also come up as a "no match."  

       It was interesting to read the results and maybe somewhere down the road they will help connect with people,  but I was hoping for something more. Maybe I should force all of my relatives to do the test too. lol. Kidding.. sort of. I think I need to spend a few days parked at the Ma Archives to try to dig deeper.

Dear Heart by Judith Pinkerton Josephson

Dear Heart: The Courting Letters     
      This is another one of my books from NetGalley. I was really excited to hear about NetGalley and really excited that they have approved me to read so many books. I think I've only officially been turned down for 1. (Thanks Penguin UK... boo.)
    Anyway, this book is a love story; two actually. One story line follows a woman named Lisa who finds a box labeled "Courting letters," while she is cleaning out her recently deceased father's house. If you know me at all, I'm immediately interested in the story. The letters are the second story line. The letters are written between a woman named Gertrude and a man named Fred. They meet in Ipswich England in 1907 and soon begin courting. The letters are exchanged after Fred and his family move to the United States.
      This is a sweet story based on the courtship of a real couple. . To be honest, I'm not usually a huge romance fan but I do appreciate the written word and comparing the past to the present. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it was a little lighter than the materials I usually read.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Intentions... and some good books.

Well, I thought I would be writing a lot this weekend. I have been able to read a lot lately. Here are my latest 3 books.

The Chilbury Ladies' Choir 
I really enjoyed this book.  Set at the beginning of World War II, it follows the story of a village whose choir needs to dismantle because the men have gone to war. One of the women in town, Primrose Trent, decides that the choir can continue, just including the women. This is a bit of a new concept, but the women agree. This book follows the individual lives of most of the women in the choir. Being a person who often expressed myself through writing with my penpals or with my music, this book really appealed to me. 

Best. State. Ever.: A Florida Man Defends His Homeland  
  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway. (Thank you) I am reading this as part of my Monthly Keyword Challenge and Mount TBR Challenge. The keyword for April was his. (From, Trigger, Crown, Tale, Mist and His. Can you believe I only had 1 book with ANY of those words?)  Though I do not have much personal experience with the state of Florida- and therefore, do not know it's "weirdness quota," this book made me laugh quite a bit. If you like Dave Barry, you will probably enjoy this book.The chapters were `the introduction, a brief history of Florida, The Skunk Ape, Weeki Wachee and Spongeorama, Cassadaga, The Villages, Gatorland, Lock & Load Miami, LIV and Key West- most of which I had not heard much about before. Fun read. I will be passing this on to a friend of mine. 

The List 
 This is another book I read through NetGalley.  (I would also like to thank Brianna and Jabberwocky Publishing because when I first my digital copy, my Nook would not open it. Brianna contacted Jabberwocky and they fixed the issue. Thanks. It's a book I was really looking forward to it.)
        The concept of this book really interested me. After global warming has created a flood that has wiped out much of civilization John Noa helped founded the city of Ark. (I know, Noah's Ark.. that's the one thing that kind of annoyed me about the book.) There are 3 groups of people who live in or around Ark- the citizens of Ark, the Desecrators  who live in the forest and the Wordless, who have lost the power to communicate through spoken or written language. Fearing that words help to incite people, Noa has limited language to a list of 500 words- with some specialty words thrown in for specific occupations.  A teenager named Letta becomes the official wordsmith of Ark when her master, Benjamin,  is thought to be dead.
      After meeting some Desecrators, mostly artists, musicians, scientists (All creative types), Letta learns of a plot that Noa has for the citizens of Ark. She has to decide her between her loyalty to Noa or the possibility of living without language.  Great book. Interesting. I loved being able to relate the emotions that music brings up to as well.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Still alive

    Life has been going by quickly lately. I have a lot of reviews of books that I'd like to post and some personal posts I'd be tempted to put up too. For now, I just wanted to say hello. I have a little free time over the next few weeks so maybe I will try to add a few posts to reconnect. Hope your spring is going well so far!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences by Alexandra Petri

A Field Guide to Awkward Silences   

      Although I am not most original person in the world, I really appreciate how odd and quirky some people are. Maybe this is one of the reasons I became a middle school teacher? I can handle and appreciate awkward sometimes; most times in fact.  This book made me laugh a lot. This is a collection of essays written by Alexandra Petri- whom I think I would have a lot of laughs with. (Provably with me smiling and laughing while not being brave enough to go along with her weirdness- or vice versa.)
       Occasionally, when someone finds out that I penpal, they will say something like, "Oh, you penpal? Like in writing letters with paper and stuff? That's weird cool." Then they run. Ha ha. No, they just smile and look at me strangely. I think Petri has gotten that look many times too. The book tells many awkward moments or times that she has just realized that things were different for her than for some other people. I enjoyed reading her adventures. (Timmy REALLY enjoyed some of her puns.)
   I would recommend this to anyone who might want a laugh. Definitely some great nerd material in there too- Jeopardy, Star Wars, puns, etc. 
     This book was also great for my reading challenges- It was in my to be read pile and the Monthly Keyword for March (Sillence).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Old Fox Deceiv'd by Martha Grimes

The Old Fox Deceiv'd (Richard Jury, #2) 
   Well, I have found the first book of the year that I didn't like.  Why didn't I like it? Here are a few reasons:
1) The murder in the book happens in the first chapter. I found that I still didn't care who the murderer was by about 200 pages in. I think I need some more of an emotional investment in the victim.
2) I wasn't too invested in any of the characters. 
3) Maybe I'm just not up to date with my British names/vocabulary? 
    There was just something about this book I could not get into. Originally, I wondered if it might have been because the book was the 2nd book in a series, but the book didn't seem to reference too much about any previous cases.
     This book also fulfilled another book for the February Keyword Reading Challenge (Deception). Up Next: A Field Guide to Awkward Silences (Silence) by Alexandra Petri

Reading Challenges:
Monthly Keyword Reading Challenge: 2/12
Goodreads Challenge-11 /50
Mount TBR- 7/24

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Netgalley Review Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal'd by Mary Losure

Product Details  

    Mary Losure writes non-fiction for children. When I saw this book on NetGalley, I thought that it might be something that Timmy might enjoy too. I was happy when I was chosen to review it. (I might try to get Timothy to review it as well so they can get an idea of what the "target audience" thinks.) 
      Other than Newtonian physics, I didn't know too much about Isaac Newton. This book talks about some of his laws of physics, but mostly discusses his role as an alchemist. There are a few things that I really enjoyed about the book. The first was that it gives a lot of information about what Isaac was like as a person. As a music teacher, there are many times that I notice that my students have an idea about who famous composers are, or what they did, but they do not really have any idea how these people fit into "the big picture" historically. These composers just seem like facts in a book rather than people. It was nice to for me to hear about Isaac's quirks and personality traits, as well information about his family and living conditions. Ms. Losure also explains some of the concepts that were known/unknown in the time period that Newton was living in (Ex. how a prism works- what Newton discovered vs. what was thought at the time or how planets moved through space)
     Another thing I enjoyed was that it was a quick, easy, entertaining read. I wondered if Tim would understand some of the more technical information, like some of the symbols used in Alchemy, but there were definitely science-related things that he will find very interesting, like the information on simple machines. Towards the end of the book, the author tells how some of the discoveries made by Newton have been used in other scientific successes (like sending a rocket into space).  Ms. Losure also wrote a few blurbs that kind of challenged kids to come up with their own discoveries and inquiries.  I also enjoyed her mention of some of the interesting resources she used and the supplemental material at the end of the book. 
     I would recommend this to children who like biographies and science. I will ask Tim to give his opinion here on the blog when he is finished with the book. Thanks to Candlewick Press for the digital copy.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Secrets of Nanreath Hall

     Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff follows the story of the Trenowyth family, through 2 generations. I tend to really enjoy stories that are told from different perspectives and then connect in the middle somewhere. This book was a little different because it simultaneously told the stories of Kitty Trenowyth and her daughter, Anna Trenowyth. The fact that the story shared a setting during 2 different time periods was a little different than some other novels I've read.
     Kitty's story is set in pre-WWI England. Lady Katherine Trenoqyth is the daughter of an aristocratic family and, as such, has set expectations for her life. When she meets painter, Simon Halliday, she has decisions to make about what type of life she really wants to have and what consequences those choices might have.
       Anna Trenowyth's story occurs during WWII. She serves as a nurse for the Red Cross and is unexpectedly is assigned to service at Nanreath Hall, her dead mother's childhood home. Raised by family friends, Anna's new assignment will give her an opportunity to learn about her mom and the relatives she had never met. 
    Overall, this book kept me interested in each character and curious to what would happen next. I looked forward to reading it each night and would be interested in reading another book by this author. 
Secrets of Nanreath Hall
Goodreads Challenge- 9/50
Mount TBR- 6/24

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ensnared by Rita Stradling

   The only positive thing about being stuck at home with the flu has been the ability to read a lot. My latest conquest is Ensnared by Rita Stradling. I received my ARC from NetGalley.  This is the cover that my digital copy had, but Ms. Stradling also has another cover option on her webpage. I REALLY like this one though. It immediately caught my attention on NetGalley and when I read that Ensnared was a modern telling of Beauty and the Beast, it appealed to me more.  Since we're doing Beauty and the Beast, Jr. for our school musical,I my interest was piqued and I requested it.

Ensnared is about a woman named Alainn Murphy whose father, Connor Murphy, has been commissioned to create a robot for the rich recluse, Lorccan Garbhan. Connor's robot, Rose, has been designed to be as human as possible but it seems like there are still a few issues that need to be worked out before his deadline to Lorccan. After asking for an extension of time, and being denied, Alainn agrees to temporarily switch places with Rose (who was designed to look like Alainn) until repairs could be completed. Unfortunately, she is unsure what Rose's purpose is at the Garbhan household. 
    Although it was pretty different than what I originally expected, I thought that the concept was pretty interesting. Alainn discovers that she is the only human in the house other than Lorccan, but there are plenty of other robots. The book brought up some ethical questions about AI and human interaction with automatons.Be forewarned- there are a few "steamy" sections in this book. I thought about recommending this book to some of my students and then realized that that wouldn't be the best idea.. lol. There are a few characters/questions I would've liked to have seen developed more, but overall, it was a quick read that I enjoyed. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads. 

Goodreads Challenge- 8/50

Friday, February 10, 2017

Sparks and Shadows by Kendrick von Schiller

     I won this autographed book from Goodreads a while back.(In addition to that, the author was super sweet and included a little note to me in the package.) This beautiful cover has been calling to me from my "to be read" shelf for a while. I wasn't sure what I would think of the book since I don't really read too much fantasy. I really enjoyed it.
    Sparks and Shadows is about a girl, Fura Feier, who finds herself homeless after an explosion takes the life of her family. She is taken in by Apallo and a group of people she works with at a local Renaissance festival, she finds herself in a whole new world- literally.  She finds herself questioning where she belongs and who she really is as she finds herself on the run with Kiyani, a man who is many ways her opposite, but seemingly her only "friend." She discovers that the tale of the Sect of Seven, telling of 7 lords of elemental magic who rule the world together in harmony, has been thrown out of balance when the Nyte Fyre prophecy, declaring that one will rule over all seems to be beginning.
     I liked this book a lot. I really enjoyed the world of Izandüre. As a person who doesn't read a lot of fantasy, I enjoyed the creativity of each realm and letting my imagination picture each place.  There were a few interactions between Kiyani and Fura that got a little repetitive, but I think that those recurrences helped develop some character traits of both.  There were also a few characters I would've liked to learn more about, like Rhyne, but I'm wondering if I will see more of him in book 2.  I would like to read the second book of this series when it comes out. Thanks for the giveaway.

Reading Challenge Updates:
Keyword Reading Challenge: 2/12
Mount TBR: 5/24
Goodreads Challenge: 7/50

Monday, January 30, 2017

Resolved by Lina Abujamra

Resolved: 10 Ways to Stand Strong and Live What You Believe 
     I just finished reading Resolved by Lina Abujamra.I received a copy of this book through Goodreads via Baker Publishing Group.  This book asks readers to examine their resolve in living out their faith. Abujamra challenges Christians to resolve to 10 things in order to grow closer in their relationship with Jesus.  These include: Believe Then It Looks Ridiculous, Love When It's Inconvenient, Obey When It's Not Popular, Yield When It's My Right, Speak Up When It's Easier Not To, Give When I Barely Have Enough, Be in Community When I'd Rather Be Alone, have Joy When Life is Depressing, Hope When it Hurts, and Rest in the Midst of Chaos.
     There were some things in this book that I thought were really simply said but there were also some good reminders, thinking points and nice challenges.  I thought it might be a great book for new believers, but I wonder if they might feel a little lost with some of the Bible references. 
     One thing I appreciated about this book was Abujamra's application of living her faith. As an ER doctor, she often relates some of these points to her job. It is nice to see some real world application of her points and examples. There are many times where I have learned about my faith through interactions with people in my profession, so I appreciated hearing her experiences. 

Reading Challenge Updates:
Keyword Reading Challenge: 1/12 (2 books in the first month, but 1 out of 12 months is completed)
Mount TBR: 4/24
Goodreads Challenge: 6/50

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Lettermo 2017

     Month of Letters Challenge (Lettermo) 2017. Who's in?  The challenge is to:
1) Send at least one thing through postal mail for each day it runs in February.
2) Write back to everybody who writes to you.

      I love doing this every year. I'm a little behind on my penpal responses, so I'm responding to all of those first. However, one of the reason I do this challenge every year is to connect/reconnect with new/old friends.   If you would like a letter, comment here and add your address to my Postable account (only visible to me. I don't share your address with anyone).  If your name here is different than the name you've left on my address book, please let me know who to look for.
Month of Letters Participant badge 

   I have already challenged a few of my friends (and one of my students too) to participate. If you feel like you've lost touch with friends/family or if you want to devote some time to building relationships with people, consider joining. I've met some amazing people through Lettermo. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017 DNA kit

   For Christmas this year, I got a DNA kit from I have been working on my family tree for years. Not many people in my family are interested in knowing their backgrounds because "it doesn't matter," but I would really like to know what kind of people I was related to. If possible, I would like to learn their stories.
    When I opened the package, I didn't know how involved it would be. I thought there would be some intense directions about how not to contaminate your sample. When I took everything out, there was a collection tube, a cap, a bag and a box to mail it in. The basic directions are "spit in the tube, put on the cap, shake, put in the bag, mail it back to us." Really easy (thought you did have to actually tighten the cap.) I thought about doing a little "how to video" before I read the directions. I'm sorry I decided against the glamour pictures of my depositing my spit into the small tube for you. I just know that you're all intelligent people.
      I sent it in a few weeks ago and should get the results in 6-8 weeks. is cool enough to actually confirm that they received your sample, as well as having a tracking number on the box so you can track it yourself too. I anticipate that I will have lots of Irish in me. There is rumor that I have some native American blood on my mom's side, but only a little. (Anyone know how to look up genealogy for the Passamaquoddy tribe in Maine?) I haven't found any proof of that yet. I would be pretty shocked to find background outside of Europe. Oh, remember that book I wrote about- The Greatest Knight (both of Well, I have one ancestor that did do a ton of research and William Marshall, the knight the book is about, it in her research. She went WAY back and on multiple sides so I'll have to take a month and just follow her info from me back.
   Here are some other mysteries. If anyone has any genealogical tips on how to get past these hurdles, please share. I'm getting close to hiring someone to help me.
1) My maternal great grandmother- died shortly after giving birth to my grandmother.  When she died, my great grandfather left his kids with other people and didn't contact my grandmother for about 50 years. The short version is, my great grandmother doesn't seem to exist other than her tombstone, marriage record, my grandmother, death record and 1 census. None of the relatives alive right now even remember her. None of the children of her siblings remember her or have any pictures. She was 1 of 13 kids, so I was wondering if she might have been an illegitimate child of one of the oldest children. (I just found out that the 13th child was actually her daughter... which was unknown by my grandmother.) Child 13s married name kept coming up associated with my grandmother's brother's name. I finally located some documents and was shocked when I figured it out. Also, child 13s dad is reported as one name, but her kids think it was my grandmother's dad. Hmmm. Ideally, I would like to show my grandmother a picture of her mom.  Some days she really wants to know about her family. Other days she is sad that she was basically given away to be raised by friends. (Who were very good to her, but she discovered in high school that she had relatives that knew about her but never told her she was related to them.)

2) My other mystery is my paternal great grandfather. I have heard 2 stories- a) he was given up for adoption as an infant. His parents came from Canada. He was dropped at an orphanage in Superior, Wi. He grew up there and really disliked it. He later joined the military and lied about his age so he could be enlisted early. He changed his surname.  b) His parents died when he was a teenager. He changed his surname.  
     I don't know what the original surname was. I can confirm that he seemed to lie on military records because I have him coming from Superior, Wi and Ohio. I traced him back to a 1920 census, which seems to be the first time he was in Ma. I am trying to see if there is a connection to the people he was living with at the time.
     The good note is that my dad's cousin wants to know this too so maybe I will find some answers.

      I'm excited to see the results I get from Ancestry. I was a little disappointed to see that they have "26 ethnic regions"  that seemed really broad to me, but it's scientific evidence that will help point me in the right direction.  Here are the regions that the test covers. I'll let you know what I hear.


  • Native American


  • Europe East
  • Europe West
  • European Jewish
  • Finland/Northwest Russia
  • Great Britain
  • Iberian Peninsula
  • Ireland
  • Italy/Greece
  • Scandinavia


  • Africa North
  • Africa South-Central
  • Africa Southeastern Bantu
  • Benin/Togo
  • Cameroon/Congo
  • Ivory Coast/Ghana
  • Mali
  • Nigeria
  • Senegal

West Asia

  • Caucasus
  • Middle East


  • Asia Central
  • Asia East
  • Asia South

Pacific Islander

  • Polynesia
  • Melanesia
      Have you researched your genealogy? Any challenges you are running into?

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Yellow Envelope review

    I received an ARC copy of The Yellow Envelope by Kim Dinan.   This book is the story of Kim and her husband, Brian, who decide to quit their jobs, sell most of their possessions and travel around the world. This move was prompted by Kim realizing that she just wasn't truly happy with life the way she was living it.  With that being said, she realized that she had a pretty good life and was grateful for it.   She decided to follow her dream to become a writer and to travel.
    Before leaving, the couple is given a yellow envelope filled with $1000 cash by a couple that they were friends with. They are given the opportunity to give the money away to people in any way that it made them happy. There were 3 rules- don't overthink it, share your experiences if you'd like and don't feel pressured to give it all away.

The book followed their travels through Ecuador, Peru, Nepal, India, Germany, Vietnam, etc. Along the way, you encounter their interactions with other travelers as well as "natives." You read challenges and success stories about their relationships and their travels.
     There were quite a few things I really liked about this book:

1)   Kim seems like a person I'd like to sit and have coffee with- or exchange letters with. I liked her sense of humor and I could relate to her a lot (except for the running... I hate running.) There were a couple of times I was slightly annoyed that she didn't seem happy with her life, even though nothing was wrong, but I think we've all been there at times, haven't we? I think it's healthy to examine this at times. I also want to acknowledge her vulnerability at times. Sometimes it's hard to admit that our problems might be caused more by us than they are by other people. I think it's brave to take ownership for things that you feel are within your realm of fixing. I also think it's brave to use what you can to make the world better- whether it's making somebody happy, giving them money or serving them with your time or gifts. I like people that I feel like I can learn things from while sharing my own life. Kim also has a blog,
2) I love traveling vicariously through the stories of others. I have never really desired to visit some of the places that she visited, but I am more curious about those places now. I enjoyed learning about places I had never heard about and learning cultural tidbits about daily life. The book kind of reminded me of how I felt while I was reading Eat, Pray, Love... but not at the same time.
3) The opportunity to make a difference and have an extra $1000 that you can just give away. What a gift!
 The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World   
Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks for a great read! I would highly recommend this book to my friends.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

mentally decluttering

     I don't know if it's my growing to-do list, my busy schedule or the fact that I have not been able to sit down to write a letter in a long time but I'm feeling super stressed out. Everything is fine, I just need to mentally declutter a bit. So, I'm going screen free for a week (other than 1 check in for e-mail per day and incessantly checking work e-mail because I have to.) With no tv, no social media, way less e-mail and no wasted time there, I think I'll be able to catch up with my to do list and feel a bit more like myself. See you in a week!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Feeling artsy

    As part of their Christmas gifts, each of my sons got a box of pre-planned "Mom Dates" for 2017. Over the past few years, I have really enjoyed the opportunity to take each boy out individually to just hang out. January's dates were both artistic.

Timmy and I went to a place called Wicked Art Bar. They are a local place that hold paint nights. Once or twice a month, they do family days. I wasn't sure if Timmy would like it but, based on his interest in his painting from Thanksgiving, I thought I'd give it a try. We painted "Snowy Bunnies." Here's how they came out:
Tim, hard at work.

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 Tim and I:
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 Finished product (check out Tim's snow bunny on the left.):
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Ironically, my sister-in-law, Sarah, gave me a gift certificate for this same paint place. I had seen a painting that I thought my mom would like so I invited a friend and we went to paint it last Friday night. Here's the finished painting. Don't show my mom, I made it for her birthday. (I know, I sound like a 5 year old but I hope she likes it.)
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    My date with David was on Monday. We went to Clay Dreaming, which is a pottery studio. You can either go to the wet studio and legitimately put together a piece of pottery, or paint pre-made pottery which will then be glazed and put in the kiln. David developed an interest in pottery in his elementary art class. I think he was slightly disappointed when we got there and he realized he wasn't making the pottery, but I thought we'd check it out before we really got invested.

David painted a mug. The inside is green and the outside will be a darker blue once it's fired.  He was having a nice time at this point.
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Still good:
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Then we had a bit of a meltdown. He was working really hard on the mug and everything was going well. He tried to draw a Minion and things came I saw a lot of myself in him right then. He had an idea of what he wanted, couldn't do it- but wanted to try. When he tried and it didn't go well, he got super upset. He didn't want me to do it for him, didn't want help, but he also was really stressed about how to finish without ruining his final piece. It was sad. We changed the Minion body into a face. We worked together to make the face, eyes, goggles and he did the smile. I hope he's happy with it when it is finished.
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Here's my plain plate. (Which will be very dark blue with a coral-ish color around the edge) I would've done very well if I had just copied an idea someone gave me, but I'm not very creative with blank space. Also, my snowflake stamp rebelled. I wish I knew some cool techniques- next time. Oops- I didn't post because I had written my last name across the plate. Sorry! I'll let you know if I like it. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Land of Stories

The Land of Stories- The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1)  
    On a recent trip to Barnes & Noble, Timmy and I saw this book.  I immediately recognized Chris Colfer's name as the author and realized that he was the actor who played Kurt on Glee. I didn't know that he was an author as well. Tim ended up buying the book and when he was done with it, he told me I should read it.So, you'll get a 2 for 1 deal- Tim's thoughts and my own. 
     Timmy's review- "The Land of Stories is about 2 children who fall into The Land of Stories. They have to find a certain spell to get back to their world. I liked it a lot because it was exciting and suspenseful. I would recommend it to 12-14 year olds."

     My thoughts- Overall, I enjoyed the book. If you have seen Into the Woods, it is very much like that. The Wishing Spell, is a spell that will grant any wish.  In order to do the spell, certain items must be collected. The items are found throughout the kingdoms in the Land of Stories. The 2 kids in the tale- Alex and Conner- are twins who are very different from each other. (I often chuckled at Conner's sarcastic comments.) In addition to the challenge of the quest to find each item, they are also under pressure since the spell can only be used twice and this would be the second time. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Evil Queen is also seeking to perform the Wishing Spell.
      There were some parts of the books that I found a little predictable but I enjoyed the backstories of many of the fairy tale characters. There were a few unexpected twists too.It was entertaining throughout most of the book but I enjoyed the end chapters the best.  I think many people who enjoy fairy tales would like this book. 

Reading Challenge updates:

Keyword Reading Challenge 1/12 (2 books for January-)
Goodreads Challenge 3/50
Mount TBR challenge 2/24

Saturday, January 14, 2017

2017 mail and Secret Christmas RR#3

I haven't written much about mail since the new year. I have received some beautiful cards that I wanted to show off:

Secret Christmas RR#3
 From gzechanka in Ukraine
 From Rodzinka in Russia. I loved the stamps on this one too.
 From Liisa in Finland. Thanks for telling me about the traditional decorations with the Finnish flags. I didn't know that.
 From Alevtina in Russia Thanks for the great stamps too. Love the braid on the snowman!

This is from Jacque in Az. I love it.  Because she's awesome, she also sent me the next card.
 I love Nouvelle Images!!!
 Keeping with the music theme. She also sent an Elvis stamp and Edith Piaf too. That would be a really interesting duet, eh?
Naoko sent this yummy card from Japan.
    This next one made me giggle a bit. It's from Marilyn in Texas.  I have never been to Tx, but I've heard "everything is bigger in Texas," so I guess this fits. I'm right on the "Damned Yankee" and snafu border.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

My first NetGalley Review

The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost     
     This month, I received an advanced reader copy of The Happiness Effect by Donna Freitas. This is also the first book I have received from NetGalley (Thanks!).  
      When I first saw this book, I was very interested in the topic. This book deals with social media and its effect on people, centered around college aged students. Freitas has surveyed and interviewed college students on thirteen college campuses across the United States and asked questions about anything from sexting to addiction to their smart phones.  As and educator and a mother, I have often wondered if the interactions with social media that I notice are as harmful as it can sometimes seem. This book made some really interesting points and observations. 
     Here are some specific points that got me thinking:
1) The topic of "likes."  Being a woman in my late 30s who is teaching teens, I didn't feel like I was really "out of touch" with the next generation, but this chapter made me wonder if maybe I am. I have always thought of my photos on sites like Facebook or Twitter to be like an online photo album; something to share special moments with people I care about. They are a way for me to connect with distant relatives and people that I don't see often. If I am looking at someone's social media and I 'like" a post, it is usually to acknowledge that I have seen the post or to let a friend know that I enjoyed looking. I assumed it was the same for everybody else too. The concept of comparing the amounts of likes that a picture I post to the number of likes a friend gets on their page is totally foreign to me. I can understand doing this if you are somebody who is marketing or promoting something, so you can see that your posting is effective, but doing this for a personal site was a little crazy to me.   Another thing that was a little disturbing was the fact that there are many people just posting things for the purpose of obtaining likes. If I go out to dinner with a friend, take a picture and post it, I don't care if people like it or not. I do not make the effort to go to a specific event or destination only to get likes. Lastly, the importance of likes quantifying self-worth was kind of discouraging. I didn't realize that some of these actions/attitudes were this prevalent. I was especially surprised that many people seem to go through their social media posts at the end of the day to delete anything that didn't get "liked."
2) Branding yourself- I am on Twitter and Facebook. I have never tried Instagram or Snapchat, and probably won't. I use social media to connect with other people. This book mentioned how many high school guidance counselors and college professors have emphasized to students that people will examine them on social media, so they should be aware of the image they are sending out. This has led to many people only putting up "The highlight reel" of their lives, which has a few implications. The first thing that can be noticed is that many people are putting out an "online version" that is different from the in person version of themselves. Secondly, if a person is told that they can only put positive things on their page- or to never make a mistake, is that carrying over to life offline, where they think they have to be perfect all the time? Lastly, constantly comparing how happy/adventurous the lives of everybody else seem to be is not usually healthy for anyone who has ever felt lonely or longed for something better in their own life. I think it is easy for many people, myself included sometimes, to watch other people live their lives through the lens of social media and wonder why our life seems a little drab in comparison.
3) What are the implications of social media in the long run? How will it affect relationships and face to face communication? Do people have to be "on" 24/7?  Is it healthy to feel like you cannot be without your phone at any time? I particularly liked what she said about this. "The burden we are carrying around because of our phones would be lifted if they would only disappear if they dropped off the face of the earth. These tiny, light, pretty, shiny devices have come to represent an outsized weight upon our shoulders- we look at them and see our to do lists, our responsibilities and other people's needs, o ur perpetual inability to keep up, the ways in which others constantly judge us, everyone's successes amid all our failures, among so many other stresses- stresses that feel more like thousands od pounds than a few ounces."
 4)Faith and social media- How does being a person of faith impact your use of social media, if at all? I loved this chapter and really enjoyed seeing the perspective of other people. 
    One thing that Freitas mentioned, that I had never really considered, was that college aged kids are truly the first generation growing up with "no precedent for a life lived and celebrated and picked apart on a virtual scale." Freitas says that this fact alone makes them explorers and pioneers who are trying to navigate the same way that all the rest of us are and adjusting accordingly. 
     This is a good read for anybody who works with students or has children on social media.
     I would be curious to hear some of your views on social media. What are some things you like and dislike? What social media sites are you on? Are there any things you have wondered regarding the long term use of technology? What is your relationship to your smart phone?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

January Keyword Challenge Book Review- The Death of Sweet Mister

    In January, the keywords for the 2017 Keyword Reading Challenge were: Court, Fall, Of, Way Deep, and Thousand. I took all books with any of those words out of my "to read" pile" and ended up reading The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell.
The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell  
 The Death of Sweet Mister is about a 13 year old boy named Morris Akins, nicknamed Shug by his mother and names like "Fat boy" by his mother's boyfriend.  It tells what life was like for Shug, growing up in the Ozarks surrounded by adults who are bad moral influences on him. Glenda, his mother, is an alcoholic who is in an abusive relationship with a man named Red,  who may or may not be Shug's father. Red is a career criminal with an addiction to anything that can seem to give him a high- booze, prescription pills, gambling, drugs, etc.    Shug is often brought along on these criminal escapades and witness to many events that he shouldn't have been, "Men stuff."  Life is bad, but changes when a man named Jimmy Vin Pearce shows up in a green Thunderbird and develops an interest in Glenda. 
     This book is hard to say that I "liked" because of the subject matter. I thought the writing was good and I know that it has been read in many book clubs. I just found it to be bleak and depressing. I Not the cheeriest way to start 2017. I gave it 3/5 stars on Goodreads because I thought it was written well, despite the story.  I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone.   American author, Dennis Lehane, wrote a foreword in this edition of the book and he says:
     "Most of us remember parts of ourselves that didn't survive adolescence. At some point, to make our way in the world, we did as the Good Book suggested and put away childish things. And so it is in   The Death of Sweet Mister, where the death in question is not physical. In some ways, though, it's worse. It's the death of the "sweet," the death of the soul, the end of anything approximating childhood or innocence." (xi) 

Progress in The Monthly Keyword Reading Challenge: 1/12 months completed 
Progress in MOUNT TBR Challenge 1/24 books